China to trim fishing fleet as fish stocks shrink

A Chinese fishing vessel anchored at the mouth of the South China Sea off the town of Infanta in Pangasinan province, as they wait for their fishing expedition to Scarborough Shoal.
A Chinese fishing vessel anchored at the mouth of the South China Sea off the town of Infanta in Pangasinan province, as they wait for their fishing expedition to Scarborough Shoal. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG • China reckons it is time to shrink the country's fishing fleet, currently the world's largest, to protect fish stocks which are being seriously depleted.

The Agriculture Ministry said that overfishing in China's rivers and coastal waters has practically left "no fish" and fishermen are having a hard time finding a catch, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday, citing a state radio report.

Agriculture Minister Han Changfu, who is also in charge of the fishery sector, told China National Radio that a series of measures has been drawn up to tackle overexpansion, including reducing the number of fishing boats, the SCMP said.

China's deep-sea fishing in the world's oceans must develop under tightened regulations, supervision and self-discipline, Mr Han said.

This will get "rid of the outdated ways of production, which are destructive to the environment", he added. He did not indicate how many boats could be cut.

China currently consumes more than a third of the world's seafood supply.

The Agriculture Ministry said that while Chinese-controlled seas can sustain an annual yield of eight million tonnes to nine million tonnes of fish annually, the figure has been 13 million tonnes in recent years because of overfishing.

Similarly, fish stocks in Chinese rivers are severely depleted. The top four fish species now lay less than one billion eggs a year in rivers, down from about 30 billion previously, the radio report said, citing agricultural ministry data.

To secure good catches, Chinese fishermen have been forced to travel further afield, including to disputed waters near China, the SCMP said.

Earlier this month, Japan protested when more than 230 Chinese fishing boats and armed coastguard ships sailed into waters near a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea known as Diaoyu to the Chinese and Senkaku to the Japanese.

Professor Cai Shengli, a marine biologist at the College of Fisheries and Life Science at Shanghai Ocean University, was quoted as saying that trimming the Chinese fishing fleet was not enough, the SCMP reported.

The reason is that as long as demand for seafood keeps growing at what Prof Cai called a "scary pace", the industry would build vessels that are bigger and better able to sail longer distances.

He suggested that fishermen could be turned into fish farmers.

The output from fish farms could potentially be greater than the catch from the sea.

China has already taken steps to curb overfishing, such as banning nets with small mesh. It also imposes a three-month fishing ban in offshore waters each year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'China to trim fishing fleet as fish stocks shrink'. Print Edition | Subscribe